Combining sumptuous visuals, a talented cast of accomplished actors, and a verified hit as its source material, “Annihilation” produces plenty of enjoyable scenes and set pieces but leaves audiences feeling the sum was less than the parts. “Annihilation” is Alex Garland’s big screen adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel of the same name.
Garland, whose writing credits include his novel “The Beach” and the movie “28 Days Later,” broke out as a filmmaker after he wrote and directed “Ex Machina,” which became a bona fide hit. Garland was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar; “Ex Machina” which won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
Garland wrote and directed the film “Annihilation,” which opened domestically Feb. 23 and which will enjoy an international distribution via Netflix starting March 12. The film’s cast is led by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and also includes Oscar Isaac, who starred in “Ex Machina.”
Portman stars as Lena, a biologist and former soldier, who volunteers to explore “the Shimmer” — an affected area of forest whose central lighthouse was struck by a celestial object years earlier.
Isaac plays Lena’s husband, Kane, who is among the many people who go missing after entering the Shimmer to investigate the pandemonium. Lost for a year and presumed dead, Kane suddenly reappears in their home, unaware of where he has spent the last year and in need of urgent medical attention.
Lena decides to join an all-female team on a courageous journey into the Shimmer in one final attempt to explain the puzzling phenomena happening inside and to find a way to save her dying husband. Within the dystopia, cells mutate randomly and sporadically, spreading to construct nightmarish monsters — shark-like crocodiles, wolf-like bears, and snake-like intestinal worms, to name a few.
Eerie and intense, the stunningly-realized interior of the Shimmer offers encounters with gory beasts that are both visually splendid and frightening. Unfortunately, the movie’s ending does not live up to expectations and is utterly laughable and senseless. A gripping, disturbing initial setting instantly turns absurd when nonsensical scientific jargon is used in tandem with the B-movie solution of aliens to explain the Shimmer.
The movie’s climax relies too heavily on special effects and inconsistent science — the extraterrestrial material that jets out of Dr. Ventress (Leigh) is almost as ridiculous as the clay figurine who takes the shape of Lena and mirrors her mannerisms. The alien which proved resilient to multiple rounds from a machine gun minutes earlier is ultimately undone by a simple hand grenade that then somehow manages to ignite and destroy the entire plagued region.
Since “Annihilation” is supposed to be a sci-fi horror movie, the ending feels even more laughable, cockamamie, and out-of-place. Viewers know the resolution is bad when the characters themselves are unable to explain anything. Lena inanely and repeatedly answers, “I don’t know,” to questions about how she survived the Shimmer.
Regrettably, the movie largely diverged from its source material. The film evaded important sub-plots present in the original novel, including the thread which explained the title of “Annihilation.” To poorly make up for it, a possessed Dr. Ventress erratically utters the single word towards the close of the film.
Additionally, the warped and perplexing music of the trailer — which raises hairs and chills bones — was almost entirely absent from the film’s soundtrack. In the trailer, the music appropriately complements the weird, mind-bending set-up of the story. The lack of further riveting music in the actual movie complements the lack of further intrigue beyond the initial, interesting inception.
What the movie lacks in sensical resolution, however, it partially makes up for in bemusing and beautiful aesthetics. The filmmakers demonstrate mastery of special effects and animation as distorted and colorful visuals penetrated the Shimmer.
Moreover, the character development and plot twists in terms of the characters’ storylines are not disappointing but rather unexpected and commendable. Clearly, VanderMeer had premeditated the heroines’ stories’ evolution even if some of the loopholes of the Shimmer were completely ignored.
Ultimately, despite its interesting elements, the gestalt of “Annihilation” was disappointing, as the creators exhausted countless implausible and incoherent explanations — as well as audiences.